Monday, September 24, 2007

The Big Sit

Production editor Matt Merritt writes:
A forthcoming feature in Bird Watching will look at what's known as The Big Sit - that's when you position yourself in a hide, and sit and wait, and sit, and sit, and sit some more, and see which birds venture into view. To make it a bit more interesting, you only list those that venture to within, say, 15 metres of your position.
Now I'm one of those patch birders who tends to dash round as many local birding sites as possible, seeing if anything interesting is around, and moving on quickly if it's not. In my defence, it's mainly down to time constraints. Once the evenings are shorter, in particular, my available birding hours are severely restricted, so I tell myself it's necessary.
Then there's the fact that I like walking a lot. So much so, in fact, that when I got deeply into birding again eight or nine years ago (rekindling a childhood obsession), it was mainly because I was doing a lot of walking and started taking bins along to enliven the boring bits.
But anyway, yesterday I went down to one of my local nature reserves, settled into the furthest hide, and tried this Big Sit lark. Only for an hour (our intrepid feature-writers will be doing ten), and using an area of roughly 20m radius from the hide, which has visibility on three sides.
I'll be honest - I was astonished at just how many birds I saw, and their sheer variety. Coot, Mute Swan, Moorhen (18 of them), Little Grebe, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Magpie, Chaffinch, Mallard, Carrion Crow, Wigeon, Gadwall, Woodpigeon, Jay, Starling, Stock Dove, Feral Pigeon, Sand Martin and Goldfinch. Assuming you can count flyovers (and I have done where the Sand Martin is concerned), there were also three Buzzards, two adults and an immature. They played their part by startling the Jay into the open briefly.
It's all made me think about how I do my birding. For one thing, it encourages you to spend much more time observing the behaviour of common species, and that's always fascinating. The way the Moorhens, in particular, went about their business was entertaining and intriguing. And there's more time and comfort for picking out ID details - I methodically separated the female ducks, usually something of a blind spot for me.
It also made me think about what I didn't see. No Reed Buntings, at a site usually full of them. Victims of the wet summer, or just moved to a different spot? No Wrens, even though a family were nesting IN the hide a couple of months back.
I'll keep doing it. Maybe just once a month, because I know the urge to march around all my local sites will strike soon, but definitely on a regular basis.
Had the hide had visibility on all four sides, I could have added Kestrel to the list, because as I emerged, a pair were sat on fenceposts near the path. They took a slow look at me, then lifted off into the air, no doubt to the consternation of the local voles.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Camargue 2008: Feb 16-22 & 22-28,

Readers’ Holiday
Southern France in winter
February 16-22 & 22-28, 2008
Further information: Call Hugh Harrop of Shetland Wildlife on 01950 422 483, e-mail or visit

The beautiful region of Provence is a superb destination for a midwinter birdwatching holiday. Wintering Wallcreepers, Alpine Accentors, Eagle Owls and Citril Finches in Les Alpilles, raptors and wildfowl in their thousands in the Camargue, and Little Bustards, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and Calandra Larks on the Crau Plain. A superb short winter break for Bird Watching readers, and just a couple of hours flying time from home.

Look what this Bird Watching break offers.
• Six nights in the foothills of the beautiful Les Alpilles region.
• Visit the beautiful citadel of Les Beaux to see Wallcreeper, Alpine Accentor, Blue Rock Thrush, Black Redstart, Crag Martin, Sardinian Warbler, Crested Tit and Firecrest.
•Search known sites for Eagle Owls at dusk.
• Explore the wetlands of the Camargue, where thousands of waterfowl winter and herons and egrets occur. Reedbeds hold Bearded Tits, Cetti’s and Moustached Warblers and Bittern.
• Raptors include Spotted, Booted, White-tailed and Bonelli’s Eagles, Merlin, Peregrine, Marsh and Hen Harriers and Egyptian Vulture at various sites.
• Visit La Crau to see Pin-tailed Sandgrouse along with Little Bustard, Stone Curlew, Southern Grey Shrikes, Dartford Warblers, Stonechat, Cirl and Rock Buntings, Calandra Larks and Richard’s Pipits.
• Look for Citril Finch, hundreds of wintering Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Bramblings, Crossbills, Nuthatches, Marsh and Crested Tits, and maybe Black Woodpecker in the high forests of Mount Ventoux. Golden Eagle and Goshawk may be seen here.

Your holiday programme:
Price: £795 per person, based on two people sharing a twin room. Single supplement: £75. Deposit: £200. Includes: return schedule flights London Gatwick/Marseilles; six nights accommodation, all meals from dinner on day one to breakfast on day seven; transportation within France; entrance fees; local taxes; gratuities and services of professional guides.

Information: Call Hugh Harrop of Shetland Wildlife on 01950 422 483, e-mail or visit

To book: These trips are extremely popular, so we suggest you call or e-mail to check availability. If booking by telephone please state this is a Bird Watching magazine holiday.

Norfolk: July 3-6, 2008

Bird Watching Readers’ Break
This Bird Watching break is being arranged by Celtic Bird Tours. For further details, or to book a place call Neil Donaghy, on 01656 645 709 or 07971 983 227.

Norfolk: July 3-6, 2008
Rich in habitats and home to some of our rarest breeding birds, Norfolk is the ‘premier’ birdwatching county, with a wealth of species unlikely to be matched elsewhere in the UK. The breeding season will be in full swing and we may also encounter some scarce late migrants. A flexible itinerary will take account of tide times and weather conditions to ensure four days of excellent birding.

Look what this Bird Watching break offers:
• Look for summer plumaged Spotted Redshanks, Avocets and Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Lapwing, Ringed Plover, Snipe, Wood Sandpiper,Whimbrel, Little Stint, and Dunlin among wildfowl and waders.
• Montagu’s Harriers may be seen with local Marsh Harriers. Other raptors include Honey Buzzard, Buzzard and Sparrowhawk.
• Look for Bearded Tits, Reed and Sedge Warblers, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Little Owl, Turtle Dove, Bullfinch and Tree Sparrow.
• Garganey, Spoonbill and Little Egret are possible, plus Black Tern, Little Gull, Common, Little and Sandwich Terns. Seawatching may produce Gannet, Common Scoter and Eider.
• Visit the Brecklands, where Golden Oriole, Hobby, Spotted Flycatcher, Garganey, Yellow and Grey Wagtail , Stone Curlew, Wood Lark, Crossbill, Hawfinch, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Marsh Tit and Firecrest occur.


Day 1: Arrive at hotel 1pm. Visit Kelling Water Meadows and Salthouse.
Day 2: Harrier watchpoint plus RSPB Titchwell for migrants, wildfowl, waders, gulls and terns.
Day 3: Visit Brecklands, Weeting Heath and Lynford Arboretum. Evening Nightjar walk.
Day 4: The Wensum Valley Raptor Watchpoint and Cley NNT. Return to hotel mid-afternoon, where tour ends.
Hotel: The Pheasant Hotel at Kelling.
Group size: Ten plus leaders. NB: This tour involves early morning start and late evening finish.
Price: £399. Single supplement £30. Deposit £50. Includes three nights dinner, bed and breakfast, packed lunches, en-suite accommodation, transport in Norfolk, service of expert leaders and reserve entrance fees. Not included: travel insurance, drinks and personal items.

Morocco 2008: February 17-27

Bird Watching Readers’ Break
Morocco: February 17-27, 2008
This Bird Watching break is being arranged by Celtic Bird Tours. For further details, or to book a place call Neil Donaghy, on 01656 645 709 or 07971 983 227.

This North African tour will visit the desert, mountains, wetlands and coast at the start of spring migration in Morocco. This exciting destination has special birds found only in the south of the Western Palearctic among the richly varied habitats – including the immense Atlas Mountains – which we shall visit.

Look what the Bird Watching holiday offers:
• Special species such as Bald Ibis, Cream-coloured Courser, Moussier’s Redstart, Black-crowned Tchagra, Thick-billed Lark, Black-shouldered Kite, Tawny Eagle and Southern Grey Shrike.
• Visit the Sahara Desert for Lanner and Barbary Falcon, Eagle Owl, Fulvous Babbler, Hoopoe Lark, African Desert Warbler and Desert Sparrow.
• Sousa Massa National Park is important for endangered Bald Ibis and many herons, egrets, Marbled Duck, Glossy Ibis, Ruddy Shelduck and perhaps Tawny Eagle.
• The ‘hammada’ or stony desert is the place to see Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Thick-billed, Desert and Temminck’s Horned Larks, Red-rumped and Desert Wheatears, Trumpeter Finch, Long-legged Buzzard, Booted Eagle, Montagu’s Harrier, and possibly Tristram’s Warbler and Mourning Wheatear.
• Birding in the Atlas Mountains, where Barbary Partridge, Levaillant’s Woodpecker, Blue Rock Thrush, Crimson-winged Finch, Red-billed and Alpine Chough and Golden Eagle occur.
• Other special birds include Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Woodchat Shrike, Wryneck, Nightingale, Egyptian Nightjar, Houbara Bustard, Booted, Short-toed, Bonelli’s and Golden Eagle, Black Kite and Lesser Kestrel. Expect to see 175 species.

Day 1: Fly London/Agadir. Transfer to hotel.
Day 2: Birding the Atlantic coast, Sous Massa NP and Oued Sous.
Day 3: Drive from Agadir to Taroudant through the bird-rich Sous Valley.
Day 4-5: Drive to Boulmane Dades across the ‘hammada’. Visit the Tagdilt Track, famous for special species.
Day 6-7: From Boumane to Merzouga on the edge of the Sahara. Birding the wadi’s and oases.
Day 8: Roadside birding en route to Ouarzazate will produce migrants and lots of wheatears.
Day 9-10: From Ouarzazate through the High Atlas Mountains to a watchpoint for migrants and raptors. Arrive Marrakech and spend day exploring valleys and mountains.
Day 11: Visit city of Marrakech before return flight to London.
Leaders: Josele Saiz and Neil Donaghy.
Group size: 11 plus leaders. NB: Tour includes early starts and late finishes and some walking at altitude.
Price: £1,399. Single supplement £150. Deposit: £350. Includes: Flights London/Agadir/Marrakech/London. Transport in Morocco, all meals except lunch on first and last days. Service of expert guides and entrance fees. Not included: travel insurance, drinks, personal items, local drivers’ gratuities.

Cornwall, October 13-19, 2007

Bird Watching Readers’ Break
This Bird Watching break is being arranged by Celtic Bird Tours. For further details, or to book a place call Neil Donaghy, on 01656 645 709 or 07971 983 227.

Cornwall, October 13-19, 2007
A few places are left on this holiday based at Marazion. It will visit the valleys and headlands where rare and uncommon migrants regularly occur at this time of year. Please call Neil Donaghy on the number below if you would like to join the group.